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Fighting ad fatigue in a remarketed world

1. Introduction 2. That’s the way the cookie crumbles 3. Retargeting with precision 4. Online privacy in a world that’s always watching 5. Tell us, crystal ball, what do you see?

By: Elsa Sjögren

Published: Nov 19, 2020

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Trickle firmly believes in challenging industry norms and finding new paths. We’re distribution scientists, and our reports are our way of turning fancy words into reality. In this report, we turn our attention towards ad fatigue, online privacy and new directives as well as key initiatives that are changing, and will continue to change, the landscape of (digital) marketing.

Recent research from Novus/Sveriges Annonsörer shows that society is, simply put, sick of ads – and we have been sick of them for quite some time. Eight out of ten Swedes find ads disruptive or annoying on a daily basis, and a whopping six out of ten claim to have a negative attitude towards ads in general. This U.S. study from 2018 paints a similar picture where 42 percent find digital ads too intrusive. This is a continuation of a trend that’s been on the rise for the past five years. For every study conducted, more people seem to dislike advertisements. Ads on tv, the internet and on our phones are among the most disruptive – and thereby, those most disliked.

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Why? Well, digital experts say that the average person is exposed to roughly 4 000 – 10 000 ads a day. Let that sink in for a while. 10 000. In comparison, in the 70’s we were exposed to about 500 ads a day. 10 000 is a number so huge our brains aren’t even capable of processing it all. According to Jonas Colliander, Assistant Professor at the Center for Retailing at the Stockholm School of Economics, our brains weed out a large portion of those impressions. No wonder people experience fatigue.


He believes our attitude towards ads stems from a combination of increased noise and technical progress.

– We’re exposed to thousands of commercial messages per day, and it’s constantly increasing. At the same time, we’ve found ways to opt out and avoid ads through technological solutions such as ad blockers as well as streaming services.

Jonas Colliander, Assistant Professor at the Center for Retailing, Stockholm School of Economics

He says that television, the internet and our phones are mediums where it’s especially difficult for the recipient to simply look away.


– Our phones are almost an extension of ourselves nowadays. I believe targeted ads feel even more personal and like a violation of privacy when we receive it on a tool which so many of us need in our daily lives. 


Hanna Riberdahl, CEO of Sveriges Annonsörer, argues that retargeting, the repetition of messages based on past interactions, plays a key factor to our fatigue.


– You visit a website or search for something, and just a few minutes later an ad for that exact thing shows up in your inbox and everywhere online. You feel stalked, and that’s never a good thing, she tells newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

Jonas Colliander, Assistant Professor at the Center for Retailing, Stockholm School of Economics.

As often is the case, a part of that being-stalked-by-some-ad-for-a-sofa-feeling comes down to cookies. A cookie is a snippet of data which allows websites to store your information. Cookies remember what you put in your online shopping cart, even after you left the website. They can suggest similar items you might like and, after looking at that aforementioned sofa, make sure you see ads for that specific piece of furniture pretty much everywhere online.

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Jonas Colliander tells us that research shows that the use of cookies brings out mixed emotions in us.


– In some cases, it works as a reminder and has the desired effect. But they also annoy us. Maybe you were just scrolling, looking for inspiration with no real desire to make a purchase. People tend to feel stalked and worry about what information is being gathered. It’s also quite common for people to get ads for things they already bought, which is additional fodder for frustration.


Since the implementation of GDPR, users now have to consent to the usage of cookies. Site owners must also provide information about the data each cookie tracks and its purpose, as well as make it easy for users to deny their consent and allow access to services even if consent is not given. All in all, this is obviously a good thing. However, as marketers, this calls for tact and finesse.


– These new cookie directives, along with several other requirements, have caused an average of a 60-80 percent drop in page views when looking at paid traffic. A drop that  affects retargeting audiences, says Christina Norling, Content Distribution Lead at Trickle.

The retargeting Christina Norling refers to is closely intertwined with social media pixels. Pixel is most likely a word you’ve heard thrown around like padel plans in a group of men going through a midlife crisis. In many ways, a pixel works similar to a cookie. It’s a snippet of code that collects information about your actions online and uses it for marketing purposes. The difference lies in how the information is delivered and where it is stored. Cookies store information in your browser and can’t follow you across devices. A pixel, however, sends information directly to a server, for instance a social media platform, and can follow you across devices.

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But as Hanna Riberdahl, CEO of Sveriges Annonsörer, pointed out – is retargeting causing us all to simply hate ads? In fact, do we hate ads altogether already? We might. But done right, done assistively, we – the industry, the marketers – can find ways to declutter the web and make it slightly better. The key is precision. Let us explain.  


You’re running a campaign on Instagram targeting potential prospects. Eggs are being put into a proverbial basket. If you’re wrong in your targeting hypothesis, the ad ends up feeding the fire, wearing out the already weary. Eggs: wasted. If you’re right – high frequency and repetitive messages might lead to fatigue. Again, those pesky eggs are wasted. Without learning from behavior and specific data points, you expose your message and brand to unnecessary risks.

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A key step to fight this is to not fear test runs. Test out different tactics before opening up the metaphorical wallet and letting the spend rip. Look at your conversion funnel. What are the different steps, where do you lose the majority of your target audience, where do you risk frequency peaks, where do you risk feigning interest and where can you re-ignite it? Adapting the message of the retargeting ads along the way and connecting them to moments, behavior and triggers can be rather effective in guarding your brand against the ever growing impatience and “fed up-ness”. For instance: a video view, a click or an add to cart most likely describes different stages of intent and should be met, served and assisted accordingly. Repetitive views, clicks or carts added – well, now we’re cooking with gas. (As long as your audience already hasn’t converted. Because you’re excluding conversions, right?).  


Just to be clear, high frequency isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s encouraged. Like with conversation: it should be done gracefully and attentively.


– Try working with frequency in different steps. What happens if you pause target groups once you reach a higher frequency, go quiet for a while, and then reactivate them after a period of time?, says Andreas Jallinder, SEM Lead at Trickle.


Placements are also crucial to consider when creating a retargeting tactic. You might want to place the first ad in the feed, whereas the second and third exposure might do better as a story. Try it out, experiment and evaluate and don’t let yourself get attached to one form of placement or asset type.

The CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey is the world’s largest survey of internet security and trust, with more than 25 000 users across the globe. In 2019, it found that social media companies are a big source of distrust on the internet –  with 75 percent of respondents citing Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms as contributing to their lack of trust. In fact, when it comes to distrust on the internet, social media companies are surpassed only by cybercriminals. Eight out of ten respondents were also concerned about their online privacy, with over half being more concerned than they were a year ago. It’s not an exaggeration to state that distrust has led to changed behavior online, with nearly half of those surveyed said it had caused them to disclose less personal information on the internet.

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The report “Svenskarna och internet” from 2019 find that attitudes in Sweden differ depending on age. In the youngest group surveyed, aged 16-25, 39 percent feel surveilled online but aren’t as concerned about big companies violating their privacy online as the ones aged 26-45. However, the younger generation – although born into a digital world – are cautious when it comes to their social media use. In a survey conducted by Vice, 6 in 10 Generation Z respondents expect that in 2030, intentionally decreasing time on social media will be commonplace.

Jonas Colliander of the Stockholm School of Economics believes that our increased worry concerning online privacy has to do with us becoming more and more aware of just how exposed we truly are. But when it comes down to our everyday choices, our behavior doesn’t change. We still pay with our most valuable commodity: data.

– We worry and feel strongly about it, but we continue to use social media and free email services because it’s convenient and easily accessible, and so far, that need trumps our concern for online privacy. 


He believes that change happens – and will continue to happen – on a more structural level.

– We see some changes in EU directives, such as GDPR, that have had an impact on people's lives. I think we will see even more regulation when it comes to online privacy, and that will have the greatest impact, rather than individuals changing their habits.

Jonas Colliander, Assistant Professor at the Center for Retailing, Stockholm School of Economics

The option to opt out and hide ads is something that we believe will grow bigger and become easier in the years to come, and Jonas Colliander agrees. 


– Because people are growing more tired of ads, and because it’s getting more common to have the option to opt out, I believe ads will take different forms and change. Non-traditional ads with content that has a greater value for the recipient will grow bigger and advertisers will have to find new business models that don’t rely as much on ad revenue.

The demand for online privacy is also evident in Apple’s release of iOS 14, as it is severely restricted how marketers can access users’ actions or data without their consent. When an app wants to do this, iOS 14 will show a pop up explicitly asking for the users permission. 


A possible consequence of these new features might be that apps are only allowed to ask for permission once using a rather frightening banner. Without getting permission from the user, seeing the results of app campaigns will be a difficult feat, with retargeting being almost impossible.

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– I personally believe that stricter rules on this is a good thing. Partly to break the monopoly of information that companies such as Facebook and Google have today, partly because it’s important to protect people’s privacy and integrity. It will put the pressure on us in marketing to stay creative and find new solutions, says Christina Norling.


Wherever we might go next, it’s clear that the debate on online privacy is far from over, and has, and will continue to have, a very real effect on users and marketers. Will our need for privacy, ad fatigue and stricter regulations make it completely impossible to create targeted, personal ads? Will the sheer amount of commercial impressions impact our attitudes towards advertising even more negatively? Perhaps not. However, creativity, curiosity and an ambition to truly connect with people are increasingly important and key elements that are impossible to overlook when it comes to succeeding in an emerging digital world. We’re not ready to declare the death of retargeting and cookies just yet. It does however need our collective finesse to not end up on life support.


A game of pause and play

How can you build frequency, nurture customer relationships and increase conversions – within the confines of a very limited target audience? Working with Leadme, Trickle explored this challenge.

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Leadme is a partner service, serving as a middle man matchmaker between homeowners looking to renovate and contractors. The homeowners describe what they need done, Leadme sends out a request and collects offers from different contractors, serving as an adviser as well. In 2019, they came to Trickle looking to grow their business and generate more leads. 


– We made a change in our business model and, because there was a big difference in our offer compared to earlier, we decided to launch it under a new brand. And, like all new businesses, we needed to secure customers. We were completely unknown as a brand and no one knew about our offer. Coming to Trickle, we wanted to spread the word as well as generate conversions and leads, says Dennis Hedenskog, Marketing and Communications Director at Leadme. 


Instagram and Facebook were the focus and lookalike audience groups based on Leadme’s customer lists were created. If you’re not already familiar with the term, a lookalike audience is a segmentation tool used to find users whose demographic and interests are similar to your existing customers. Trickle created four lookalike audiences with a percentage ranging from one to eight, each group containing two percentage points. The first group, to test out the waters, was the one with a percentage of 1-2. When they reached a frequency of four, the group was put on pause and the next one was activated.

Reactivation generates results


Conversion rate




Aggregated frequency

After about five months, all four lookalike groups had been tested once, and the first one was reactivated. During this time, Leadme produced new content, taking into account what worked and what didn’t during the past few weeks. After reactivating the lookalike groups, the numbers were pleasing. During the first two weeks, the conversion rate went up 104 percent and the CPA (Cost Per Action) went down 38 percent for the two first lookalike groups. Turns out, a little break and some fresh content can make fatigue users feel curious again. 

Continuously rotating the different target groups, with Leadme feeding in new content on the regular, utilized the possibility to build frequency over time, while still maintaining a high conversion rate. In total, the aggregated frequency lands at 8,68.

– If I had run a campaign, without any interruptions, and reached a frequency of 8, I wouldn’t have gotten the same results. By letting the audience rest, it’s possible to build frequency over time and still get a positive result which continues to improve. It’s a really cool tactic actually.

Anders Jallinder, SEM Lead at Trickle

The conversion rate was at its highest during the first two weeks after reactivating the groups, slowing down after a month. However, the effect was the same after each reactivation: booming numbers.

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How do you feel about the collaboration?

– We’re very happy with how everything worked out. At Leadme, having good relationships with everyone we collaborate with is really important. We’ve been working with Andreas at Trickle and felt, right from the very beginning, that we got along well. He’s understanding in regards to what we need help with, professional and has great expertise. It took us a while to get going, but we’ve been able to be honest about our expectations the same way Andreas has been open about what he’s doing to get us there. Not only are we happy about our professional relationship with Trickle, we’re also excited about the higher-than-expected results, says Dennis Hedenskog. 


During this process, Leadme has created new content based on insights from the campaign. How have you worked together?


– It’s one of the reasons why we’re happy with the collaboration with Trickle, it’s an open way of working where both parties give and take. At first, we didn’t have any data to go on and tried out different types of content, placements and strategies. As we moved forward, we discussed what’s working and produced content based on those insights, tweaking it each month. Andreas has brought his expertise to the table and shown data on what’s performing well, and we’ve been able to bring our know-how on our customers, their thoughts and opinions. 

Dennis Hedenskog, Marketing and Communications Director at Leadme.